Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Thoughts on Being Both Christian and Muslim

I earlier had commented on the Episcopal priest who claims to be both a Christian and Muslim. As Ann,one of my commenters pointed out, the issue is really about the responsibility of the clergy. On reflection, I think that Ann is right. I certainly want the church to be a place for people to explore their faith. It is a home not merely for those who adhere to Christian doctrine; it is also a home for seekers as well. For clergy, however, the issue is quite different, as Father Tobias Haller explains quite well (what else is new!). And in doing so, he asks the right questions about the appropriate church response to a priest's periods of doubt:

Many of you will no doubt have heard of the Episcopal priest who is attempting a personal reconciliation between Islam and Christianity, balancing the evidentially contradictory creedal claims (that Jesus is -- or isn't -- the Son of God) in a precarious syncretism.

When I saw this story I gave a sigh of sympathetic frustration. I can understand how people have doubts, and go through periods of further exploration in their religious development. None of us is, I dare say, full-formed in faith until we reach the point at which we know as we are known. But the church rightly expects conformity to its doctrine on the part of those ordained to ministry; one signs a statement to that effect at ordination -- but this oath need not mean a perfect acceptance or understanding of all of which that doctrine consists, but at least a willingness not to teach anything to the contrary. I take that to be the meaning that lies behind conformity.

Still, crises of faith are bound to arise. Our church might do well to have a process similar to that of religious orders for folks who are going through such crises of faith and/or vocation -- a kind of temporary withdrawal without the punitive note of "suspension" but with the same effect -- at the end of which they could either re-commit to or renounce (or be deposed from) their orders. I'm not sure what this kind of intentionally temporary renunciation would be called. What do the canonists out there think? Or do we need this kind of pastoral measure?

Read it all. The comments are worth reading as well. Father Greg Jones has similar views (perhaps stated a bit more strongly) in a post here.

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